By Kyp Walls, Panasonic System Communications Company of North America
Over the past few years, the tablet PC has had a meteoric rise from niche product to global phenomenon. Today, according to analysts at IDC, more tablets are sold globally than both desktop PCs and laptops combined. It’s easy to see why — tablets can offer processing power, connectivity, functionality, and performance capabilities comparable to those of a desktop computer, while being a good deal lighter and more portable than even a laptop.
As these devices explode in popularity, the market has been flooded with an endless variety of new models. While some of these devices are appropriate for enterprise use, most are designed strictly for the consumer market and, in many respects, come up short for the professional world. With so many options on the market, channel resellers have the opportunity to serve as advisers to their customers and help them in selecting the right tool for the job. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
Durability: True enterprise mobility requires technology that can handle the rigors of enterprise use, and this means enduring the occasional accidental drop to a hard floor or spill. Commercial devices are quickly rendered nonfunctional from such accidents, resulting in not just costly repairs and replacement, but also the loss of worker productivity and business-critical data. While many manufacturers may claim their devices are ruggedized, look for tablets with MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certifications. These mean the device has been tested to withstand drops, shock, vibration due to in-vehicle use, spills and moisture, extreme temperatures, and other common on-the-job hazards. Although durable technology may come with a higher sticker price, the fact that it’s built to last means customers achieve a better return on investment.
Purpose-Built Functionality: Enterprise-grade tablets have numerous unique options not found on consumer devices that can substantially improve efficiency and productivity. These include screens that are viewable in direct sunlight; digitizer pens for signature capture or for detailed drawings; barcode, NFC, SmartCard, RFID and magnetic strip readers; and touchscreen capabilities allowing for use by workers wearing thick gloves. Many customers also may need tablets that can be safely mounted in vehicles — enterprise-grade devices generally have a variety of certified vehicle mount options, while consumer devices simply do not.
Battery Life: Look for a tablet ready for a full day of work — few workers are able to stop their shift just to recharge when a device is running low on juice. In fact, in a survey conducted by Technology Business Research on behalf of Panasonic, 64 percent of respondents considered battery life a top priority when purchasing a tablet. The longer a battery is able to power a tablet, the longer it enables worker productivity. Beyond just battery life, look for user-accessible batteries, which are common in enterprise-grade technology. They can easily pop out and be replaced with a fresh and fully charged battery, keeping workers productive. Consumer-grade devices generally have inaccessible batteries, so when the battery dies, the entire device is out of commission during recharging, not to mention requiring a full unit replacement when the battery no longer holds a charge.
Security: In the survey by Technology Business Research, 70 percent of organizations cited security as the top concern for tablets. Security must be tackled on both the hardware and software levels and goes hand-in-hand with considerations like mobile device management, operating system selection and application deployments. Features to look for include Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chipsets, anti- theft technology, and secure boot. Consumer-grade tablets typically have only the most basic levels of data security (since they’re designed only for personal use), which provides insufficient protection for sensitive business data.
Data Storage: Popular consumer-designed tablets are made with casual use in mind and provide data storage with flash RAM, limiting data storage and security. Look for tablets with hard disk/solid state drives (HDD/SSD), which typically offer higher capacities and can be removed when needed. Another key advantage of HDD/SSD is the fact that drives can be swapped out for repair or even, in extreme cases, to secure the data on the drive away from the tablet.
Connectivity: Strong network connectivity is critical in delivering on tablets’ promise of increased mobile productivity. Most tablets come standard with Wi-Fi, but 4G LTE and 3G wireless broadband is generally a better fit when tablets are primarily used out in the field. This enables the tablet to stay connected via the cellular networks. A manufacturer with substantial experience in embedding cellular radios will generally provide units with superior connectivity in the field.
With so many tablets on the market, learning how to help customers select the right device for their needs is crucial. Tablet technology has matured to the point where it can finally be taken seriously as a professional computing tool and provide a potential alternative to laptops. With some key considerations in mind, resellers can help their customers select the right solution for their particular organization’s needs and leverage it cost-effectively to keep their workers connected, productive, and efficient.
Kyp Walls is Director — Product Management at Panasonic System Communications Company of North America.